The latest EPA National Water Quality Inventory indicates that agriculture is the leading contributor to water quality impairments. In fact, EPA says agricultural and other nonpoint source pollution is "…degrading 60 percent of the impaired river miles and half of the impaired lake acreage surveyed by states, territories, and tribes." EPA says the most common pollutants are sediment and nutrients running off agricultural land and from animal feeding operations.
GAO supports EPA's conclusion without apparently working very closely with USDA and the programs it has been working on since 1972. GAO's report is focused on EPA's effort to improve water quality by controlling nonpoint sources. The report notes that EPA has developed with the states over 50,000 Total Maximum Daily Load requirements for streams and lakes. GAO notes these TMDLs have stalled because nonpoint source pollution, from agriculture, has not been adequately controlled.
GAO's report, which for a change I do not recommend you waste your time reading, is an effort by the GAO to talk to state officials, review 191 TMDLs, have 25 TMDLs reviewed by water resource experts, and talk to state officials who report that TMDLs "…generally do not exhibit factors most helpful for attaining water quality standards, particularly for nonpoint source pollution (e.g., farms and stormwater runoff)."
GAO tells Congress that "EPA does not have direct authority to compel landowners to take prescribed actions to reduce pollution." GAO says two key factors stymie implementation of TMDLs controlling nonpoint source pollution from farms and other sources: a lack of legal authority and sufficient funding.
GAO does recognize, in its conclusions, that it might want EPA to work with USDA because it notes there is important data related to TMDL implementation on streams which is collected by USDA on conservation projects but this information "…remains outside of EPA's authority to obtain from USDA without landowners' consent" because GAO says EPA cannot track USDA's actions or make any subsequent changes,
GAO recommends giving EPA more authority over agriculture saying "Congress should consider revising the acts' [CWA] largely voluntary approach to restoring waters impaired by such pollution." That means giving more permitting authority to EPA over runoff from your farming and ranching operation.
As I said in an earlier blog, watch December actions by Washington. They are usually lumps of coal in your stocking.
Gary H. Baise is a principal at OFW Law (Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz P.C.). This article first appeared in Farm Futures magazine. The opinions presented here are expressly those of the author. For more information, go to www.OFWlaw.com.
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